Tag Archive for chicago

Smoke Blog: Montecristo Chicago

Remember that thing I said about Friar Tuck dudes not knowing anything about their cigars? Friday night, I may have run into the guy who at least pays attention. I was debating between two smokes, and the Montecristo Chicago’s price tag ($13+) pushed me the other direction. However, the guy told me, “You won’t be able to get that one for long.”

The Chicago is part of Montecristo’s Connoisseur Edition series, and they’re making unique blends for big cities like New York, Chicago, Vegas, and Philly. And they’re only available in their named markets for a limited time.

Fair enough, then. Sold.

Tonight's cigar: the Montecristo Chicago

I kind of dig the wrapper and logo, too.

Now, I love Chicago. I’m not exactly a world traveler, but having visited LA, San Francisco, St Louis, Seattle, and Denver, and despite falling more and more in love with Peoria, I still put Chicago on top of the list. If someone’s going to call their product or business Chicago anything, they’ve set the bar pretty high for themselves.

Fortunately, Montecristo delivers.

The Chicago is a 6×50 Toro made with an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder, and Dominican filler. It’s luscious. Medium body, plenty of flavor but very mellow from puff to finish. No spice or tang, nor any other overpowering, obvious note. It tastes . . . well, it tastes like a cigar, damn it! It’s got a gentle buzz and lots of smoke, draws easy, and holds together well. I enjoyed it so much I had to force myself to slow down, and I smoked it right down to my knuckles.

Friar Tuck only had a box of 10, so I will have to get back there and get another before they’re gone. If your city has its own blend, get thee to a cigar store.

On a separate, cigar-related note, I want to thank XIKAR for their awesome warranty and service. I bought a fairly basic XIKAR butane lighter a few years ago, and I’ve been having some trouble with it. It’s just a $30ish lighter, but rather than toss it I decided to send it in.

A week later, a brand new lighter arrived.

My replacement lighter arrived!

Pretty little thing, ain’t it?

Functionally, it’s a night-and-day difference. The jet works so much better, and I don’t have to crank it up to full blast to get it to work. It stays lit, and it lights my cigar a lot faster. When I’m ready to invest in a new one with a punch, it will definitely be a XIKAR. Their humidor supplies work well for me, too.

In contrast, I used to have a hand-me-down of another popular brand. They charged me $30 to repair it, and even then I had the exact same problem after one refill. Never again.

Thanks, XIKAR. You guys rock.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Why the Hell Would You Eat That: Big Chain Pizza

Let’s get this out of the way up front: if you’re getting a pizza from a big pizza chain, you may as well be eating frozen pizza. Don’t trust any pizza place that can “run out of crusts,” because frozen pizza is exactly what you’re getting.

I didn’t even know this was possible until we moved from the Chicago ‘burbs out to central Illinois. One of the few pizza joints in the area at the time was a Marchelloni’s, which later became Geo’s. They had a thick, buttery, doughy crust most Chicagoans would call pan pizza, and they pretty much sucked. However, their competition was worse, so we gave them another shot one night and ordered a couple of large pizzas.

“We’re out of large crusts,” she tells me.

“Okay, can’t you make more?”

“We don’t do that here,” she says, all snide like I’m the asshole. Turns out the crusts are made elsewhere and shipped in frozen to the actual store. No thanks.

Know who else does this? Pizza Hut. Our local PH had a night donating their proceeds to our elementary school, so we paid them a visit. They were jam crowded with townies and unprepared, so they ran out of everything but regular thin crust (and those were “going fast”).

This is why these pizza joints’ pizzas are nasty, greasy messes. Yeah, Pizza Hut may be edible when it’s hot and fresh, but suck it down fast because it becomes slop two minutes after it hits the table.

Now, I realize some of you are stuck in the wild pizza frontier outside of Chicago and New York City. I realize some of you think Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and the bland bullshit served up  at your local mom & pop dustbowl pizza place is pretty good. I pity you. I really do. When some friends of ours from L.A. first tried Domino’s out in Baltimore and were impressed, I wept for their souls.

See, when the dough is made fresh on the spot, it’s got your standard dough ingredients. If you can see the guy rolling out your dough, you’re in the right place. Frozen dough? Now you’re getting preservatives and shit in it. It’s been processed, just like the garbage pizza in the freezer aisle. Not to mention these big chains need to make sure the crap they’re serving has to taste the same at every location, which means the rest of their ingredients are equally processed and preserved and loaded with things like MSG. Domino’s and Papa John’s can claim “fresher ingredients” all they want, but remember, McDonald’s makes the same nonsense claim about their fries.

I’ve tried your revamped pizzas gentlemen. An improvement? Maybe. Good pizza? Sorry, no.

I’ll admit I’m a pizza snob. Am I a Chicago or New York pizza guy? Both. I love a good Chicago stuffed pizza, and I like the giant slices you gotta fold in half to eat, so long as they’re not hyper-processed chain food disguised as the real deal.

Growing up in the ‘burbs, we could get good pizza just about anywhere, and most everywhere had a signature flavor the chains couldn’t match. Friday nights were pizza night in my family. Even our dog responded to the word pizza with excitement. Most places we called were dedicated pizza joints, but there were a couple bars that had pizza ovens, too.

Unfortunately, the farther I move from Chicago, the harder it gets to find good pizza. Things were so bad my mom, who commuted to the suburbs, brought pizza home with her on Friday nights. One pizza joint gave her an insulated delivery bag when they found out what she was doing. An hour from the oven, their pizza tasted better than anything local.

Out here in Peoria, most of the bars serve frozen pizza. The locals think it’s great, but to be fair, they have nothing to compare it to. In fact, the pizza is so bad out here, people dip it in ranch or Catalina dressing. I was horrified the first time I saw that. If the pizza is so bland you have to jazz it up with a dip, why the hell are you eating it?

The biggest culprit is Butch’s. Peorians love Butch’s because they make their pizzas locally in Morton, and they sell their own hot sauce and seasonings. My theory is they make the hot sauce to disguise the flavor of the pizza: no matter the topping, a Butch’s pizza tastes like a salt lick. It’s good bar food because you’re drunk and hungry and won’t remember the flavor anyway.

Monical’s is the nasty local chain of choice. They’re all over the Peoria area, and if I drive east on Route 24 into Indiana, I’ll pass half a dozen or so of them, all right there on Route 24. Their pizza is a cracker with a little spaghetti sauce on it. Dry and bland. Kids go ape over it, but they’re too young to know better.

Understand, no pizza is going to be good for you. My point is if you’re going to eat something unhealthy, shouldn’t it at least taste good? Shouldn’t it be worth those extra calories? The extra laps around the track you’ll have to punish yourself with?

Choking down a Caesar’s hot & ready just isn’t going to cut it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: My Kind of Town

I miss Chicago.

I don’t miss living in the city most of the time, but I do miss being able to get downtown in just a short drive. Having been to LA, Seattle, St Louis, San Francisco, and a few other cities, I still find Chicago is my favorite.


Illinois, US, and Chicago flags

The wife and I spent the weekend of the 9th and 10th in Chicago with friends. It turned into a great mini-vacation, and of course I brought the camera along to do some shooting. Hang out, relax, see the sights… sometimes that’s all you need to recharge the batteries.

The trip started with the Chicago In-Water Boat Show. My friend Tim is a boater, and for him, lusting after bigger boats is the same as when I go lusting after bigger motorcycles. Sure, you’ve got a nice one, but you’re always going to want someone else’s. The Wife and I may not be able to afford a boat, but we’re happy to look and dream and drool, so we had no problem tagging along.

This is the One

The captain explores his future vessel

Many of these boats are like floating RVs. Some are fun little fishing cruisers, others are full-on yachts with all the amenities. I’m told this is Chicago’s first in-water show, where the boats are all floating as opposed to being propped up indoors somewhere like McCormick Place. We saw prices from $149,000 up to $2 million, and the sales folks welcomed anyone aboard to take a look. There were two exceptions to this, neither with a price listed, and boarding was by appointment only. I’m guessing that meant “serious buyers only, after we run your credit.”

We started at the low end of the range, with the Wife and I stunned that the boats cost more than our house. Then we saw the $2million-dollar boats and circled back to the $150K docks and thought “Wow, this is pretty reasonable!” It’s all relative.

Finally One I Can Afford

Ah, here's one I can afford. Does it come in black?

We went out for stuffed pizza after the boat show. No way I’m visiting Chicago without getting some real pizza. There’s one place in the Peoria area that serves up proper stuffed pizza, and unfortunately their sauce is crap and ruins the whole experience. Everyone else’s attempt is fat, greasy dough which is more like what Chicagoans know as pan pizza.

Our friends had been to Gino’s East before and wanted to try somewhere new, so we hit the Bella Bacino’s on Wacker, in walking distance from our hotel. We had a few drinks, pleasant conversation, and some good pizza. Then came the naked bike ride.

Wait, what?

Yes, the Chicago World Naked Bike Ride went down Wacker Saturday night. The waitress came over and told us “4,000 naked people are riding by on bicycles right now.” It’s not something you see every day, much less in a conservative area like ours, so we went and checked it out.

Naked Ride

No flash, wrong lens, so crap pics. Sorry. Well, mostly. In some cases you would have thanked me.

The ride promotes awareness of cyclists and promotes “the freedom from oil and the beauty of people.” Unfortunately we saw a cyclist who got knocked down by a car the following day. That driver must not have gotten the message.

On Sunday we decided to walk through Millennium Park and up and down Michigan Avenue to check out the architecture. This way we didn’t have to move the car and pay for more parking, or sweat paying for cab rides. Driving Michigan doesn’t compare to walking it, either, as there are plenty of little things to see.

The Cloud Gate

The Cloud Gate, aka "The Bean"

The old buildings are so much more beautiful than the new ones. Sure, the new ones are tall and cool and have their own beauty, but they’re all cold metal and glass, where the older, carved concrete buildings have a very organic feel. It’s certainly not the same as walking through the older parts of London or Paris, but it’s nice just the same to see some history and marvel at the things we accomplished with simpler tools and materials.

Trib Entry

You just don't see this anymore.

We settled down for a drink at Timothy O’Toole’s Pub before leaving the city. It’s a nice, faux-Irish pub tucked away in the lower level of one of the buildings at the corner of Fairbanks and Ontario. They were running the soccer games, and we enjoyed watching the soccer players ham up every little kick to the shin or tumble caused by an opposing player. Unfortunately Ireland lost the match to Croatia, and the local patrons were not happy.

The Black and Blue

Tim enjoys a Black and Blue: Guinness and Blue Moon

And yes, we found a time and place for cigars. Chicago may be an anti-smoking city, but what they didn’t know didn’t hurt us.

I took several more photos, all of which can be found in my Chicago set on Flickr.

I would love to have done some writing somewhere in the city, but we had a full weekend and it was more about relaxation and recharging than getting work done. I don’t regret it, and we’re already talking about going back in a few months. Next time maybe we’ll check out Navy Pier or hit the museum campus.


About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: The Presenter

Yesterday, I gave a presentation at the Illinois Association of School Boards convention as part of my day job.

The Presenter

Lighting the Way

When I got home I set up a quick self portrait. Follow me through the darkness! Simple bounce flash setup, kit lens, triggered with a remote. I think my next investment will be a cheap or DIY portable backdrop.

For those curious, the presentation was about how school boards can use iPads to go paperless for their meetings to save money, reduce waste, and be more efficient. Our district superintendent, school board president, and I tag-teamed the presentation and played to a packed room. Lots of great feedback afterward, and several questions.

I told my boss I wasn’t nervous. Presenting there was just like being on a panel at a horror or fantasy convention. In fact, I wish it was a panel at a convention, because with a room that packed I could have sold a lot of books.

The best part? A quick trip to Chicago and lunch at an Italian joint. I dig Chicago, always have. Just the little things like seeing the water tower, the Hancock and Willis Tower, the Wrigley Building. But I don’t make enough excuses to visit. I think I need to jump on the train with the kids in the near future and spend a day.

With the camera, of course.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.


Due to some home events I’m only going to make it to the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo on Saturday the 17th this year, but that should be enough time to get a feel for this renewed Chicago comic convention and to meet up with a few people.

Though it’s only one day, I’m excited to see how the convention plays out. This one’s in Chicago proper, it’s at a larger venue (McCormick Place), and the reports from the other Reed-run shows like the New York Comic Con are always very good, so I imagine it will be a fun con.

I was hoping to bring my son to his first show at this one, but with only one day there it’s going to be all business. Evileye Books and I still need to recruit some artists, and I’ll also be speaking to my editor about future plans for The Pack, so chances are once we do that and meet up with a few other folks, it will be a packed day.

I’ve updated the Appearances page accordingly. It’s looking sparse right now, but I’ve got some things in the works for late summer or early fall out East. And yes, we still need to nail down something for Chicago, we just haven’t been getting much love from Chicago retailers yet. Hope to have news there soon.

Meanwhile, I need to keep plugging away at Book 2. Hope to run into some of you at C2E2!

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

In Your Face


Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

Do people really subject themselves to this stuff?

The Allerton Hotel in Chicago has these mirrors in the bathroom that blow your face up to something like twice normal size. Even in the picture I took of my magnified mug, I can see the line of my contact lens against the white of my right eye.

I didn’t think much of the mirror when I first spotted it, but then my hair caught my eye. Turns out it was my stubble. I thought “holy crap I need a shave,” only to look at the regular mirror to see little more than a shadow. Then I saw a red mark. An ingrown hair? The start of a pimple?

Either way, it didn’t look good.

In seconds I was sweating all manner of small stuff, not a one of which I could even remotely see in the regular mirror. Things even a high-def camera couldn’t pick up. If anyone got close enough to see what I was seeing in that makeup mirror, they were either the Wife or they were looking for a beating.

If there really are people out there maintaining their face right down to the millimeter in one of these things, they have some serious issues.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.